Haylie June is a first-generation student, which means she will be the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A sociology senior from Racine, Wisconsin, June feels she’s had amazing experiences at BYU. Still, she’s recognized the disadvantages and unique struggles that first-generation students face as they navigate college life without guidance from parents or grandparents.
Hundreds of students like June arrive at BYU every year blazing a new trail and setting an example for the next generation, for siblings, and even for parents.
Here are some simple tips for first-generation students looking to find their place at BYU.
1. Join the First-Generation Club
According to The Pell Institute, first-generation students are four times more likely to leave higher education after the first year than their peers. To combat this risk factor, BYU first-gen students have created the First-Generation Student Organization, a BYUSA club dedicated to providing sustained support to first-gen students at BYU. Supervised by Ben Gibbs, assistant professor of sociology, the club hosts weekly events designed to help first-gen students learn to network and find mentors.
June discovered the First Generation club early last semester, and believes the greatest value in the club is sharing knowledge with people in a similar situation and relating to other students. She says, “Being part of this club and meeting students that have similar, but also different experiences than me, has really helped me develop new skills and look outside of myself. It gives me an opportunity to serve and get to know people that I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.”
2. Seek Out Mentors
The club emphasizes the importance of seeking mentors. June’s college experience completely changed when she shifted her perspective, realizing that “there’s people here to help me and [who] want to help [me] succeed, and they’re offering me skills and mentorship that are making these experiences more meaningful.”
June found the mentoring she was seeking in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences as she pursues a degree in sociology. “At first, sociology felt like the fastest way to get a degree and apply for law school,” says June. “But I got a job as a TA for a research class and started doing research with that professor, and now I want to be a professor myself.”
June’s mentor, Michael R. Cope, associate professor of sociology, is a first-gen student himself. “Seeing him as a first-generation student in an academic setting, as someone who I would consider very successful, that has been a great example to me that you can do it — that there are people like you in these academic settings,” says June. She’s even had the opportunity to co-author a peer-reviewed journal article with Cope.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Professors
While every student experiences the fear that they’re irritating professors by reaching out, it can be hard for first-gen students to ask for help since they’ve been so independent in getting to college. This can be intimidating, but June says, “All my experiences with mentors in this college… have made me feel very valued and important, and I’ve never felt like a burden when I’m asking questions or needing guidance.”
Professors and teaching assistants are put in place to help students. First-generation students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of office hours and email communication.
June plans to continue sociology research, focusing on first-gen students and motherhood during college. Her experiences navigating college as a first-generation student have helped her build empathy and other attributes that serve her in her family and academic roles.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned, don’t hesitate to invite students — whether they’re first-gen or not — to share the knowledge you have,” say’s June. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends or your classmates to offer help and support when you can.”
To learn more about the First-Generation Student Organization, visit their website.